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Randy Weston and Jason Moran Take Spoleto Festival USA to New Heights
6/10/2016 3:14:34 PM

(l-r) Randy Weston (piano), Alex Blake (bass), T.K. Bluen (flute), Lewis Nash (drums), Billy Harper (tenor saxophone) and Neil Clarke (African percussion) jamming during their June 2, 2016 concert at the Charleston Gaillard Center. Photo: Hakim Abdul-Ali

Husband and wife Bobby and Debbie Gibbs of Charlotte, North Carolina show their obvious enthusiasm after the scintillating Jason Moran’s concert. Photo: Hakim Abdul-Ali
By Hakim Abdul-Ali

The contrast between musical elements and styling interpretations is always fascinating to behold. Such was the case at this year's Spoleto Festival USA's musical landscape when two jazz performers put their musical talents on display.

One was the ninety-year-old legend Randy Weston and the other was the dynamic Jason Moran. Performing in different arenas for the festival, they both explored the worlds of musical expression by delighting the Spoleto attendees with some of best music you'll ever want to hear.

First, the legendary Randy Weston brought his African Rhythms Sextet to the magnificent Charleston Gaillard Center on Thursday, June 2, 2016, and they took the audience for a unique journey to the Motherland with exclusive musical vibrations. They played for a little more than an hour and the audience would have listed for another day because Mr. Weston is by no means your average performer.

This venerable piano genius is about all things African, and he's part history teacher and cultural griot as he introduced each of his five tunes played at the concert with a breakdown of each tunes' relevance to Africa in some way.

Blessed with some truly skilled musicians playing with him, Mr. Weston and the rest of the African Rhythms Sextet literally astounded the audience with their African influenced sound. The evening was treated to a stellar evening of Mr. Weston's embracing musical echoes of Africa.

Originally from the African-American village city of Brooklyn, New York, Randy Weston presents music for the ears that seems to educate more than merely entertain. His music is meant to spread knowledge, respect and love.

The Randy Weston African Rhythms Sextet comprises Mr. Weston on piano, Lewis Nash on drums, Neil Clarke on African percussion, Billy Harper on tenor saxophone, T.K. Blue on flute and saxophone and bassist supreme, the dynamic Alex Blake.

This band of rhythm educators and conscious liberators started the evening with "African Sunrise" and then followed with "Niger Mambo" and "Blue Moses." A real sweet musical piece of African harmony was heard next when Mr.Weston's personal piece about his late son called "Little Niles" was performed with class.

All of the musicians were splendid, but I have to salute T.K. Blue and the bassist extraordinaire Alex Blake. These guys are more than good in what they do on their instruments, and Panamanian born, New York bred Mr. Blake played some of the fierce bass that I've ever heard or seen.

Mr. Blake on bass played and sang in a scatting temperament that reaches out to the Spoleto audience who listens with a sense of hypnotic amazement. You ended up asking yourself, after watching and listening to this phenomenal play, "How did he do that?" The man is baaaad!"

I believe that, after talking to Mr. Blake after the concert, his soulfulness comes from the Afro soul that is in him and it comes from his native Panamanian roots. Mr. Weston is more than a teacher. He also is a gather of Afro-kindred souls, like members of the African Rhythms Sextet, because all of his musicians, including himself, exemplify the knowledgeable genius of Africa musicianship in their performing natures.

As a quick point of reference, please don't miss my in-depth piece on Mr. Weston and his philosophy on life, spiritually and music in next week's issue. Hopefully, you'll see more why he's an honored international treasure.

Now to Jason Moran. I've know that this young talented guy was good at what he did because I've on top of his sound through the last ten years.

But I didn't know that this musician was such an electric and energetic performer. Man, oh, man, did he and his band put on a "get down and funky" show on Saturday night, June 4, at the Cistern on the College of Charleston's campus for Spoleto Festival USA.

They celebrated being in Charleston and at Spoleto with a rare audience participatory musical show, and the joint was definitely jumping that night as being relaxed and listening to grand music were the keys for Mr. Morgan's musical folly.

Advertised as Jason Moran and the Fats Waller Dance Party, the band made partying and having a good time a necessary ingredient for those in attendance that night. Spoleto Festival USA was the place to be if you wanted to witness a pure joyful musical happening as Mr. Moran's band seemed to have as much as the delighted and enthusiastic audience obviously did.

Using selected songs from Mr. Waller's storied song book, the Jason Moran Fats Waller Dance Party was all that and some more. It was a celebration of music and dancing coming together in a festive and, maybe, unexpected format.

With Lisa E. Harris driving each tune with her powerful voice, the musical group featuring the impressive Donvonte McCoy on trumpet, funk groovester Tarius Mateen on bass, beat impresario master Charles Haynes on drums and Mr. Moran on piano and Fender Rhodes, the audience had no choice but to get up and boogie.

This unique concert was highlighted by Mr. Morgan's twin sons, his wife and others all participating on stage during various songs, dancing their lives away in a 'free for all, let's enjoy ourselves' musical atmosphere. Mr. Moran, out of obvious respect and admiration, also invited the cast and performers of "Grace Notes", including its writer and director, Carrie Mae Weems, who just completed a performance of their own in another venue site, to join them on stage to join in the party.

They did, and the place turned rousingly galvanizing as some people in the audience spontaneously got up and danced in the aisles and in their seats. Security couldn't stop them. The party was on! Jason Moran and the Fats Waller Dance Party was all that and, as it's said in the soul sectors of this city, it was also a bag of chips. They were that special.

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